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BERA/TACTYC 2016 Academic and User Reviews: Early Childhood Education Keynote symposium

Jan Georgsson Jane Payler Elizabeth Wood

Members of the Early Childhood SIG are presenting the BERA/TACTYC Academic Review of Early Childhood Education, bringing together specialists in BERA and TACTYC (Association for Professional Development in Early Years). The aim is to review UK- based research since the 2003 BERA Review, with reflections on international trends. This is a significant task, which will be of interest within and beyond the UK for a range of audiences.

The presenters will contextualise the review process and identify future research themes/priorities. Inevitably, the influence of policy, and government-commissioned research, is taking a more prominent position in the 2016 Review, and we have been mindful of considering both the quality and independence of the research that is influencing policy and practice.

The Review Process

This included ECE academics and practitioners meeting at the universities of Sheffield and Winchester. We re-visited the themes from the 2003 Review, looking at change and continuity over time. The perspectives of the four UK countries are represented (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) to recognise common influences and policy drivers, and the distinctive development of their ECE systems. Five groups emerged, with two specialists leading each theme:

Theme 1: Professionalism – Early Years as a career

Theme 2: Parents and families

Theme 3: Play and pedagogy

Theme 4: Learning, development and the curriculum

Theme 5: Assessment, transitions and school readiness

Conclusion: Broader policy issues

We produced policy advice for the main political parties in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, followed by the Academic Review, and the Professional User Review. Both will be freely available for download from the BERA and TACTYC websites and disseminated widely through a range of ECE networks. These will be valuable resources for teaching within and beyond the UK, and will inform future research agendas.

Scope of the review

The age range is birth to 7 to encompass the variations in UK policies on transitions. The term Early Childhood incudes children, their families, communities and the adults who work with them in different contexts – centre- or home-based, formal and informal settings. ECE incorporates care and education as inseparable qualities of provision. The review team brings expertise in specific areas. Theme leaders have worked with external reference groups to provide further expertise, advice and overview.

The review questions

The 2003 Academic Review focused on two questions:

  • What does research tell us about how young children engage with curricula in education settings?
  • What does research tell us about how adults promote young children’s learning in education settings?

We added the following questions:

  • What are the MAIN changes that have taken place in the UK from 2003-16?
  • What theoretical frameworks underpinning each of the themes?
  • What key questions are needed to interrogate the evidence?


Type of review

We have drawn on systematic approaches in order to produce a rigorous Academic Review that reflects current positions in each of the themes. Much of the research in ECE (with the notable exception of the government-funded EPPSE study) is relatively small-scale using qualitative or mixed methods approaches, and some relates to specific populations. Although small-scale studies are less likely to be replicable, they do add cumulatively to the field over time. We aim to make clear what are the origins of the research – e.g. funded/non-funded research, government-funded surveys and reports, and interest group surveys funded by early years pressure groups and organisations.

We focused on research that has been peer reviewed in academic journals, as this is more likely to provide originality, rigour and significance in the field. Books that report research projects have been included where they state the research methodology, methods, and findings.

Methodology, Protocol, including review questions

In each of the five sections, the reviewers describe their search strategies and tools, their range of bibliographic sources, their inclusion and exclusion criteria, and how they identified the key themes. The reviewers present the outcomes and justify any claims that are being made. For example, identifying the sometimes tentative and temporal nature of such claims has been important because there have been many policy changes during this period, to ECE curriculum frameworks, to assessment regimes, and to professional qualifications.

The next stage of the process is to collate the five sections, with an Introduction and Conclusion, and to publish the Academic and User Reviews on the BERA and TACTYC websites. The interactive PDF documents will provide links to the references. Our next blog post will be the link to the completed reviews. This has involved a lot of time and hard work by the theme leaders, but we know our efforts will be worthwhile for the field.